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Pope Francis prays at a gravesite at the Ermineskin Cree Nation Cemetery in Maskwacis, Alta., during his papal visit across Canada on Monday, July 25, 2022.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

A poll suggests more than half of Canadians viewed the recent visit by Pope Francis and his apology for abuses at residential schools as a step toward reconciliation.

The Angus Reid Institute released the findings from its latest online poll in which nearly 60 per cent of participants said they saw the Pope’s apology as a meaningful step toward reconciliation, while 32 per cent said it did nothing to move reconciliation forward.

Respondents who self-identified as Indigenous were less likely to say the apology contributed to reconciliation, at 54 per cent, and 36 per cent said the gesture made no difference.

Francis spent six days last month visiting Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut for what he called a “penitential pilgrimage” and he apologized for the evils some members of the Roman Catholic Church inflicted on Indigenous Peoples during the residential school era.

The research institute said two-thirds of respondents who followed the Pope’s trip and his speeches viewed his apology as sincere.

Half the participants said the federal government, Christian churches and society hold equal responsibility for creating the residential school system and allowing it to persist.

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada, where neglect and physical and sexual abuse were rampant. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.

Francis met with Indigenous groups and residential school survivors during his stops in Canada, where he repeated his apology. Following his visit, he called what happened in residential schools a form of genocide.

The poll suggests respondents’ prior views on the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples was a significant driver of whether they viewed the Pope’s trip and apology as something that represented a step toward reconciliation.

“If you’re of the view that it’s worsening, then you’re also more likely to think that the papal visit made no difference towards reconciliation,” said Shachi Kurl, president of the institute.

“If you’re somebody who thinks that that is a relationship that is improving, people express more optimism or a sense that yes, the trip did represent a meaningful step toward reconciliation.”

More than half of respondents said there needs to be more investigations into residential schools before the country can move forward. There was a generational and gender divide on the issue, as younger respondents and women said more work is needed.

The institute polled 2,279 Canadians, with 117 of those self-identifying as Indigenous from Aug. 8-10. The polling industry’s professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.

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